`European Union Olive Oil, A Legislative Reality - Olive Oil Times

European Union Olive Oil, A Legislative Reality

Sep. 5, 2012
Virginia Brown Keyder

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When the first EU action pro­gram for olive oil comes out at the end of September, it is unlikely to dero­gate from the drafts that have been cir­cu­lat­ing since mid-sum­mer. These drafts indi­cate the plan will focus on qual­ity and con­trol, restruc­tur­ing of the sec­tor, pro­mo­tion and com­pe­ti­tion with third coun­tries.

It will also seal the fact that olive oil is becom­ing an EU prod­uct” backed by Brussels not only through pro­ducer sup­port sys­tem (espe­cially pay­ments to farm­ers, and grants for stor­age of sur­plus) but also through iron-clad rules regard­ing stan­dards, label­ing, mar­ket­ing, health and nutri­tional claims and envi­ron­men­tal rules.

The EU speaks through law, and as such, the baton has passed from Mediterranean mem­ber states to Brussels. The impe­tus for Brussels to make olive oil its own stems not only from the dam­age done to local (espe­cially Italian and Spanish) indus­tries by scan­dals, but also from the rise of com­pe­ti­tion in the form of aggres­sive allegedly sci­ence-based’ new world com­peti­tors, and the grow­ing world­wide income gap that has made olive oil the fat for the one per­cent’ and its wannabes. Arguably, it is also a way for Brussels to make nice’ to a region increas­ingly alien­ated by threats and slurs from its north­ern neigh­bors.

Unlike fully sov­er­eign states, the EU can act only through leg­isla­tive acts whose legit­i­macy must be based on the EU treaties. Hence it is in the law that we see the future of EU olive oil. While early EC/EU leg­is­la­tion gen­er­ally treaded softly on national sov­er­eignty by rely­ing pri­mar­ily on Directives’ (‘direct­ing’ mem­ber states to change their own laws in order to reach a stated goal), today it acts almost exclu­sively through Regulations’ (more heavy-handed forms of leg­is­la­tion that are imme­di­ately in effect as writ­ten with no fur­ther national action nec­es­sary or pos­si­ble). Virtually all new reg­u­la­tions repeal ear­lier direc­tives which were designed to give mem­ber states the feel­ing that they were still in con­trol.

Recent leg­is­la­tion on olive oil is a prime exam­ple of this, the first such Regulation dat­ing from 1991 (Reg. 2568/1991 as amended most recently in 2011), when Brussels set out the cat­e­gories of olive oil and the legal means of dis­tin­guish­ing among them. In January of this year, an imple­ment­ing reg­u­la­tion on mar­ket­ing and label­ing of olive oil (Regulation 29/2012), con­sol­i­dat­ing a decade of amend­ments to the orig­i­nal 2002 law, came into effect. This sets out spe­cial require­ments applic­a­ble to olive oil, com­ple­ment­ing of those set out in the 2011 Regulation (Reg. 1169) on pro­vid­ing food infor­ma­tion to con­sumers. The EU also has an ongo­ing leg­isla­tive pro­gram to estab­lish per­mis­si­ble health and nutri­tional claims, and is involved in envi­ron­men­tal mea­sures nec­es­sary to reg­u­late waste and accom­mo­date the inter­ests of a new world of olive oil tourism’.

In spite of its ori­gins in the Middle East, Southern Europe has always been the home of olive oil and syn­ony­mous with qual­ity and taste. The fac­tors men­tioned above, i.e. scan­dals in pro­ducer coun­tries, a will to con­sol­i­da­tion on the part of the EU, and seri­ous com­pe­ti­tion, espe­cially for the well-heeled American con­sumer mar­ket, are giv­ing rise to a need for a more iron-fisted approach by Brussels to pre­serve the posi­tion of European olive oil in the world mar­ket.

Virginia Brown Keyder is a mem­ber of the New York Bar (retired) and teaches EU law in Turkey, and inter­na­tional law and intel­lec­tual prop­erty law at the State University of New York at Binghamton. She is work­ing on a book about law and olive oil.

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